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Nkima Speaks

THE RED HAWK: A POEM

David A. Adams

The Red Hawk

Chapter One

“The Desert Clans”

Retold in various verse forms

by David A. Adams

I begin in the style of John Milton, who wrote in blank verse to create his famous heroic narratives, “Paradise Lost,” and “Paradise Regained.” ERB’s own style of writing in this novel suggested the form to me, and as much as possible I have retained his own words in this reconstruction.

The January sun beat hotly down

Upon me as I reined-in Red Lightning

Upon the summit of a barren hill

And looked upon a rich land of plenty

That stretched away far as eye could see

Toward the mighty sea that lay a day’s ride,

Perhaps, to the westward - - the mighty sea

That none of us had ever looked upon - -

The sea as fabulous as a legend

Of the ancients over four hundred years

Since the Moon Men had swept down upon us,

Overwhelming Earth in revolution

In their most mad and bloody carnival.


In the near distance, green of the orange groves

Mocked us from below, and great patches of

Leafless nut trees spread out before the sand

That were vineyards waiting for April’s sun

Before they, too, broke into riotous,

Tantalizing green. From this garden spot

Of plenty a curling trail wound high up

The mountainside to the very level

Where we sat gazing fiercely down upon

This last stronghold of our terrible foes.

When the ancients built that trail it was wide

And beautiful indeed, but centuries,

Man, and the elements have defaced it.

The rains have washed it away in places,

And the Kalkars made great gashes in it

To deter us, their constant enemies,

From invading their sole remaining lands

And driving them into the ending sea;

And upon their side of the deep gashes

They have forts where they keep warriors always.

And well for them that they do so upon

Every pass that leads down into their country.


Since fell my great ancestor, Julian

Nine, in the year twenty-one-twenty-two,

At the end of the first, great uprising

Against the Kalkars, we’ve been driving them

Slowly, slowly back across our world.

That was over three hundred years ago.

For a hundred years they have held us here,

A day’s ride from the ocean. Just how far

It is we do not know, but in twenty-

Four-oh-eight my grandfather, Julian

Eighteen, rode alone almost to the sea.

He had won back almost to clear safety

When he was discovered and fast pursued

Almost to the tents of his strong people.

There was a battle, and the bold Kalkars

Who dared invade our country were destroyed,

But Julian eighteen died of his wounds

Without being able to tell much more

Than that a wondrous rich country abroad

Lay between us and a day from the sea.


We are desert people, herds ranging

Over a vast, barren territory

That we may be always near the high goal

Our ancestors set for us long ago - -

The shore of the western sea into which

Is is our destiny to drive at last

The remnants of our former oppressors.

In Arizona’s forests and mountains

There is rich pasture, but it is too far

From the land of the Kalkars where the last

Of the tribe of Or-tis make their last stand,

And so we prefer life in the desert

Near our foes, driving herds great distances

To green pasture when the need arises,

Rather than settle in lands of plenty,

Resigning never the age-old struggle,

The ancient, bitter feud between the house

Of Julian and the house of Or-tis.

To match the change of mood Burroughs delivers at this point in the RED HAWK, I now change to the verse form Henry Wadsworth Longfellow employed in his “The Song of Hiawatha.”

Light breezes move the long, black mane

Of the bright bay steed beneath me

As it moves my long, black tresses,

Falling loose from thong of buckskin,

Thong that encircles my own head,

Keeps it from brushing into my eyes.

Light breezes move the dangling ends

Of the fallen Great Chief’s blanket

Strapped with grace behind my saddle.

On the twelfth day of the eight month

Of the passing year just gone

This same Great Chief’s blanket covered,

Wrapped the shoulders of my father,

Julian the 19th, protected

From harsh rays of the desert sun.

I was twenty on that sad day

On that sad day my father fell

Before the lance of an Or-tis

In the Great Feud where we struggled,

And I became The Chief of Chiefs.


Surrounding me upon this day,

As I look down upon this land,

Land of my elder enemies,

Are fifty of the fierce chieftains,

Fierce chieftains of the hundred clans

That swear allegiance to the house,

The ancient house of Julian.

They are bronzed and, for the most part,

They are all young, beardless men.

Insignias of each brave clan

Are painted in diverse colors,

Painted savage on their foreheads,

High painted cheeks, broad painted breasts.

Ocher, they use, blue, white, scarlet;

Feathers mount from tight-wrapped head bands

That confine long, black waving hair.

Feathers of the vulture rise here,

Feathers of the hawk and eagle.

I Julian 20, warrior,

Wear but a single feather sign,

Strong feather from a red-tailed hawk -

The clan-sign of my family.


Here is the warrior called, The Wolf,

And in his portrait you will see

A near composite of us all.

He, a sinewy, well built man,

A man with piercing, gray-blue eyes

That glint and glance beneath straight brows,

Head well shaped like all our people

Denoting great intelligence.

His features strong and powerful

Are of a certain bold, fierce cast

That might well strike shock and terror

Into a foeman’s heart - - and do,

If the dried Kalkar scalps that fringe

His formal blanket stand for aught.

His breeches, wide below the hips

And skin tight above stout knees down

Are of the skin of the buck deer;

Soft boots, tied tight about the calf

Are also of the buck deer’s hide.

Above the waist a sleeveless vest

Of calfskin tanned hair-on rides loose;

The Wolf’s vest is of fawn and white.

Sometimes vests are ornamented

With tiny bits of colored stone

Or metal sewn into the hide

In certain manners of design.

From The Wolf’s barbaric headband,

Just above the right ear depends,

Swings the tail of a timber-wolf - -

The clan-sign of his family.


An oval shield, painted grimly

With the head of a timber wolf,

Hangs down about this chieftain’s neck,

Guarding back from nape to kidneys,

A stout, light shield with hard wood frame

Covered staunchly with a bull hide,

Fastened around with tails of wolves.

Thus each man, with the assistance

Of women folk, gives rein to fancy

In the matter of ornaments.

Clan-signs and chief-signs however,

Are most sacred; the use of one

To which he is not entitled

Might spell his death for any man.

Yet I say might only spell death,

For laws are not inflexible;

We have few laws, none are written.

Kalkars forever made up laws,

So we hate them, as the Kalkars;

Each case upon its own merits

Judged; we pay more attention to

What a man intended doing

Than what he did upon each day.


The Wolf is armed, as are the rest,

With a light lance eight feet in length,

A knife and a straight, two-edged sword.

A short, stout bow is slung below

His right stirrup leather - - quiver

Of arrows at his saddle bow.


The blades of his sword and his knife

And the metal of his lance tip

Come from a far place, Kolrado,

Made by a tribe that is famous

For the hardness and the temper

Of the metal of its keen blades.

Utaws bring us metal, also,

But so weak, we use it only

For the iron shoes that protect

Our horses’ feet from cutting sands

And rocks of our barren land.


Kolrados travel many days,

Travel hard and long to reach us,

Coming but once every two years.

They pass free and unmolested,

Through many foreign tribal lands,

Bringing us none else might bring us,

What we need in our long crusade,

Our never ending, dreary struggle

Against the race called the Kalkars.

It is the only thread that holds

Together scattered clans and tribes

That spread out east and north and south,

So far beyond the ken of man,

All driven by the same purpose - -

To drive the last of the Kalkars

Into the raging of the sea.

Back to blank verse

From the Kolrados we get meager news

Of clans beyond them toward the rising sun.

Far to the east, they say, so far away

That in a lifetime no man might reach it,

Lies another great sea, and in that east,

As here upon the world’s western edge,

A few Kalkars are making their last stand.

The rest of the world has been won back

By people of our own blood -- Americans.


We’re always glad to see Kolrados come,

For they bring us news of other peoples,

And we welcome the distant Utaws, too,

Although we are not a friendly people,

Killing all others who come among us,

Out of fear, chiefly, that they may be spies

Sent by the Kalkars. It is handed down

Father to son this was not always so,

And that once the people of the world

Went to and fro safely from place to place

Speaking the same language, but now it’s changed.

The Kalkars brought hatred and suspicion

Among us, until now we trust only

The true members of our own clans and tribes.


The Kolrados, coming oft among us,

We can understand, and we they fathom,

By means of a few words and many signs.

When they speak their own language together

We can but surmise occasional words

That are like one of ours. They say that when

The last of the Kalkars is driven out

We must live at peace with one another,

But that will never come to pass I fear,

For who would go through a whole life without

Breaking a lance or dipping his sword point

Now and then into the blood of a stranger?

Not The Wolf, I swear, no more The Red Hawk.

By the Flag! I take more real pleasure in

Meeting a stranger on a lonely trail

Than meeting a friend, for I cannot set

My lance against a friend and feel the swish

Of wind as Red Lightning bears me swiftly

Down upon the prey crouched in the saddle,

Nor thrill to the shock as we surely strike.


I am The Red Hawk; I am but twenty,

Yet to my will a hundred fierce chiefs bow --

Yea, to this twentieth proud Julian.

And from this year, 2434,

I can trace my heritage five hundred

Thirty-four years to the first Julian,

Most nobly born in 1896.

So from father to son, by word of mouth,

Has been handed down to me the story

Of every famous Julian, a strain

Untarnished, not blot upon the shield

Of one in that long line of warriors,

Nor shall there be a single blot or scar

Upon the shield of this 20th one.


From my fifth year to my tenth one I learned,

Word for word, as my father before me,

All the glorious deeds of my forebears,

To hate Kalkars and the tribe of Or-tis.

This, with riding, was my only schooling.

From age ten to fifteen I learned the use

Of cutting weapons -- lance and sword and knife,

And on my sixteenth birthday I rode forth

A grown man with other men -- a warrior.


As I sat there upon this heavy day,

Looking down upon this most fertile land

Long stolen by the accursed Kalkars,

My mind drifted back to the mighty deeds

Of Julian-15, who had driven

The Kalkars across the burning desert

And over the edge of these bright mountains

Into the warm, gentle valley below

Just one hundred years before I was born,

And I turned to The wolf and pointed down

Toward the green groves that rustled softly

And the distant hills and way off beyond

To where the mysterious ocean lay.

Rhyme scheme from “The Wanderings of Oisin” By W.B.Yeats

“For a hundred years they’ve held us here;

‘Tis too long.” “Too long,” the Wolf replied .

“When the rains are over Red Hawk’s spear

Leads his people into the other side.”


The Rock raised his savage lance and bow

And shook it toward the valley far below.

The bloody scalp-lock that aligned

Its metal-shod tip trembled in the wind.


“When the rains are over!” he cried.

His fierce eyes burned with homicide.

“The green of the groves we will make

Red with their blood,” cried the Rattlesnake.


“With our swords, not our mouths,” I said,

And wheeled Red Lightning toward the east.

The coyote laughed, and laughter increased

As we wound downward and spread

Out of the hills toward the desert land.


The afternoon upon the following day

We crept in sight of our tents outspanned

Beside The River’s yellow clay.

Yet, five miles before, three sullen

Puffs of smoke arose from a hill,

Telling the camp a body of horsemen

Was approaching with deadly will .

Thus we knew our sentry was on duty

And that doubtless all was well.

At a signal my warrior cavalry

Formed into straight line swells,

Crossing one another at center bends.

A moment later more smoke outspread,

Informing the camp we were friends --

Our signal had been rightly read.


(Here it is already time for Jim Thompson’s “Moon Men” ECOF and I have not finished my little experiment. However, this fragment may make a worthy addition to Tangor’s CD since it is indeed on topic. Reading these lines aloud may be an instructive consideration of ERB’s poetic language, which was kept intact as much as possible.)

May 12, 2000